Skylark: Demonically Seductive

A couple goes away for a little while and their child, left alone, creates all kinds of chaos, of which, by the time the parents return, there is no trace. Skylark unfolds from the inversion of that simple stock premise: in this case, it is the child who goes away and the parents who run amok.

This short, perfect novel seems to encapsulate all the world’s pain in a soap bubble. Its surface is as smooth as a fable, its setting and characters are unremarkable, its tone is blithe, and its effect is shattering.  — Deborah Eisenberg

Read the complete review at the source: New York Review of Books

The Book Beat reading group meets the last Wednesday of every month. At our next meeting we will be discussing Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi as the Book Beat Reading Group selection for May. The meeting will be held on May 26th at 7 pm at the Goldfish Teahouse, 117 W. Fourth Street in Royal Oak. Meetings are free and open to the public. Please call 248-968-1190 for more information. Book club books are discounted 15% at Book Beat, online orders will also receive the 15% discount for this title.

Richard Aczel’s fine version of Skylark catches its author’s irony and sharp, atmospheric nuance. This hidden masterpiece is now being presented to a wide audience, an event to be celebrated.
The Irish Times

…a superb, deeply poignant short novel…anyone can enjoy Skylark as literature in English, even it they have no special knowledge of, or interest in, Hungary…because Kosztolányi’s writing is good enough to transcend [any] cultural differences…
— Timothy Garton Ash, The Independent (London)

Dezso Kosztolányi (1885-1936) was born in Subotica, a provincial Austro-Hungarian city (located in present-day Serbia) that would serve as the model for the fictional town in which he later set several novels, including Skylark. His father was the headmaster of the local gymnasium, which he attended until he was expelled for insubordination. Kosztolányi spent three years studying Hungarian and German at the University of Budapest, but quit in 1906 to go into journalism. In 1908 he was among the first contributors to the legendary literary journal Nyugat; in 1910, the publication of his second collection of poems, The Complaints of a Poor Little Child, caused a literary sensation. Kosztolányi turned from poetry to fiction in the 1920s, when he wrote the novels Nero, the Bloody Poet (to which Thomas Mann contributed a preface); Skylark; and Anna Edès. An influential critic and, in 1931, the first president of the Hungarian PEN Club, Kosztolányi was also celebrated as the translator of such varied writers as Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Goethe, and Rilke, as well as for his anthology of Chinese and Japanese poetry. He was married to the actress Ilona Harmos and had one son.

Source: New York Review of Books (publisher site)

I dream of colored inks. Of every kind.

The yellow is the finest. Reams and reams
of letters could I write in yellow ink
to her, the little schoolgirl of my dreams.
I’d scrawl something that looks like Japanese,
then try a bird, most intricately scrolled.
And I want other colours, many more,
like bronze and silver, emerald and gold,
and then I want a hundred more, a thousand,
or rather, I will have a million:
dumb-charcoal, funny-lilac, drunken-ruby,
enamoured, chaste or brash vermilion.
I ought to have some mournful violet,
a palish blue, a brick-red-like maroon,
like shadows seeping through a stained glass window
against a black vault, in August, at noon.
In reds I want a blazing, burning one,
and blood-red, like the blood-stained setting sun
and then I’d go on writing: with a blue
to my young sister, mother will get gold,
I’d write a prayer in gold ink to my mother,
a golden dawn with golden words re-told.
I’d go on writing, in an ancient tower.
My colour set, so fine and exquisite,
would make me happy, oh my God, so happy.

I want to colour in my life with it.

Kosztolányi poem from Laments of a Poor Little Child Source: European Cultural Review

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2 comments on “Skylark: Demonically Seductive
  1. It was unanimously considered a masterpiece and classic by one and all. Comments centered around the poetic and universal nature of the book, and its concern with life’s most vital and important issues. It was also a moving evocative portrait of small town Hungarian life at the turn of the century. I was very pleased with it, and was one of our best discussions.

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